An interview with Rik Freeman: The perspective of a Photographer

I do not class myself as a professional or an artist, nor do I desire to be one. I believe you are always learning and should never stop. I am a self-critic to the  point that photography evolved into a chore instead of a pastime that I was once passionate about. I’d often compare myself to others and this was a self-destructive minefield.  I had the need to capture memories, but hated that I felt I wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter  the words of positivity I often received. I wanted/needed to appreciate a photograph and not automatically attach my own feelings of despair and inadequacy.  When you are a writer you need to read in order to write. When you are a photographer you need to appreciate and look at other photographers in order to learn and understand what makes a good photograph. Over time, Rik has posted many photographs and I have learnt to take me out of the equation and just appreciate his work, like a friend should.  My relationship with photography has improved so I can at least capture memories.

I am lucky to call Rik a friend. He is such a lovely man and a talented photographer. Today, it is not easy trying to make a living by being a photographer. Photography is such a competitive market.  Many want your talent for free, or at such a reduced price it is not even worth  your time. I interview Rik to talk about the highs, lows and everything in between.


What made you decide photography was the career path for you?

This is an interesting question that I have never been asked before. There has never been any fixed point in my life where I had ever decided that. It has been a culmination of many years of work in all types of photography. For me to narrow it down and concentrate on what I want to do rather than what a client may want me to do. There is a massive difference as I found out earlier this year (2016).  I found myself doing work I absolutely hated but I had to finish the job as best as I could. I came away from it telling myself never to undertake that kind of work ever again. A big jolt in the decision did come to me over 10 years ago while on a trip to Greece with a £40 6mpx compact camera. I took one shot and on my return to the UK after seeing that image on a large screen really blew me away, it was that image that told me to invest and learn more. I did.


How old are you and what age did you become interested in photography?

I am at the grand young age of 51 now. I have to admit to not feeling as old as I am, in fact far from it. I feel better now than I did in my 20’s, although some morning’s my back tells me otherwise. I think I started showing an interest in photography at the age of 16 when my parents bought me my first SLR 35mm film camera.


What was your photography learning process?

At first it was the same as anyone else playing with a new toy. I had no real interest other than the normal take a shot, get it printed and forget about it. As time went on I was looking more and more into what the camera could do to help me get better shots. From there it went to buying photography magazines and reading articles posted by readers as well as what the pro-photographers had to say/advise. As far as formal education goes I did not take any lessons and was not taught by anyone. It was simply learn as I go, stick to what I was, and am good at, and forget the rest. The biggest mistake I made was to not listen to so many people over the years who told me I was good. I put it down to them being polite as we all are when someone shows us a picture.


What does photography mean to you?

Oh I so love this question. My answer is I DO NOT KNOW!! It is something that gives me immense pleasure when I capture an image. When I look at it on the camera screen and I know straight away that I got something special. I know that somewhere someone will be able to identify with that shot and I hope it may bring a smile, evoke a memory or show others what lies outside of their own front door.


Describe the first time you held a camera?

As a kid I remember my mum having a box brownie film camera (I know, ancient for sure) and as most kids to me it was a boring toy, so nothing was evoked. Getting the SLR camera on my 16th birthday changed that perspective as I was amazed at how much it weighed and just how complex it was all just to take a photo. This I had to learn.


What type of photographs do you take?

As far as what types of photo I take, all I can say is “anything goes”. I have tried not to bracket myself into any specific category but that has a massive downside as I do not get to spend so much time trying to perfect any specific field of photography. I do tend to lean more towards the landscape and portrait work though which has always been a passion of mine.


What type of photographs do you prefer taking and why?

For me it is capturing the unknown or at least little known of. The surprising thing is that one of us has any idea what lies outside the boundaries of our own home. Photography has provided me with so many opportunities to show to others what lies on their doorstep and I have had many an argument with a person who cannot believe I got a shot from their own town that looks so good. Add to that I am an inquisitive person that likes to travel, they both tie in perfectly as some of the best shots I get are from places that many just have not bothered to go and look at. Another favourite of mine is portrait work, there is nothing I like more than being in a studio shooting a model and to see the expression on their face at the finished shot, or mine as in most cases even I am amazed by the results.


Talk about your style (what make your work your work)?

My style, another question I cannot say what that is, for sure my main aim is to provide images that not only appeal to others, in fact that is the last thing on my mind, the first criteria for me is? Do I like what I see, if no, it does not get taken. Even if a location is recommended to me if it does not hit the right buttons for me and I see “no shot” I will not take it. The last thing I want is to be classed as “normal” in my work, but, for some reason I am able to view a scene and get a from it a shot that no one else would have thought possible, let alone capture. I have had people with me whilst out taking shot ask, “what did you just get!”  I love the shocked expression on their faces when I show them the images on the camera. You will not see me at the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, for the simple reason they have been photographed millions of times from every known angle. I would not feel there is anything I can add to what has already been capture. For me it is a little back road in Greece that opens out to an amazing vista of fields, an old barn and a mountain range in the distance, throw in some stunning clouds and then you have my attention.


Tell me about your photography journey, the places you have been, and the people you have met

If you don’t mind I would like the journey word to be dropped, for me it is a quest! To bring to everyone images that they may see every day or in most cases things that they can only dream of in places hitherto unknown. Many doors have been opened for me and I am lucky to be able to go to places now that only a year ago would have been out of bounds or impossible. I like the results that I give and provide the answers to anyone that questions my ability as I do not rate myself as a pro and a lot of times feel like a total amateur compared to some photographers out there. However, I am now confident enough to know I can hold my own and when challenged will more that rise to the occasion. Over the years I have met some amazing people, not only those that hold offices of power but every single person that stands in front of my lens and allows me to capture them in my eyes is a hero, whether it be a private shoot for them only or a general purpose portfolio. To me it makes no difference, I treat everyone the same, respect them and also the places I go, again to me it is important to blend in and try as much as possible to become invisible, by doing so it puts people at ease and also tells me that I have their trust of which I will never break. There are of course other photographers that I have met along the way all of which I admire and respect for whatever it is they do, although most of my “friends” are online but we hold a lot of respect for each other as well as admiration for some of the amazing images they themselves capture. One couple whose work I seriously like is that of Tanu and Christopher Shiels, based in Gravesend UK. They specialise in model photography as well as Tanu also spending a lot time in front of the camera to try out new ideas. If anyone takes a look at their work you would be hard pressed not to be impressed by the stunning images they have come out with. They strive to come up with something new and at every shoot they get nothing less. Others who I have a lot of time and respect for are: Jason Garton (UK) owner of Megapixels Photography Group, not only a good photographer but now a firm friend who appreciates the work put in by others. Damien Brearley (UK), founder of the Canon DSLR UK Facebook photo page. Here is one talented guy that I know when given the chance can produce something special and a person who I like to keep an eye on as he never flinches from trying anything new or at worth capturing something from a totally unique angle. Iraklis Karapanagiotidis (Greece), Maria Rampia (Greece), Maria Douka (Corfu, Greece), Panagiotis Bouras (Greece), along with many other Greek photographers who produce some stunning images. These all add to an online community that are totally dedicated not only to showing what they do but also promoting and where possible helping others to do better.


What was your first camera and what camera do you use now? What preparation do you do for a shoot?

The first camera was a Praktika B200 Electronic 35mm SLR film camera, back in 1981. It was an East German produced camera that came with a superb 50mm Zeis Lens and for its time was the underdog of the photo world amongst the likes of Canon, Olympos, and of course the professional cameras. I have now progressed to the Canon 5d Mk3 which is nothing less than an amazing piece of equipment. I like it due to its pure simplicity, and it suits my look, point and shoot style of photography without having to mess around configuring and trying to optimise the thing prior to any shoot. Due to my love of travelling to new places or even pre-visited locations the only real prep I need to do is watch the weather reports and hope that the weather is as expected. No!! A place does not always need to be shown in gorgeous blue skies or bright sunshine, I am at a stage where I can adapt to the weather and hopefully pull something out of the bag as I find storm clouds also add some amazing perspectives to scenes. If I am doing a wedding shoot then I liaise with the clients at all stages along with home visits so that come the day I am not a stranger to them or their family and again they have a level of trust in me and know of what to expect from the results. If it is a studio shoot again to build a good rapport with the models/clients is essential in order to get as good a shot as possible.


Have you ever felt like giving up?

A question I never thought I would get asked. YES… In fact again earlier this year (2016) while on an assignment I had the client messaging me pretty much telling me they hated everything I was doing even though they could not see what it was that I was doing and putting me down for not being able to communicate with them every second of the day. Even though before I left the UK we had ironed out all of the problems that I knew I would come up against. Everything from the weather, the unorganised location and the hide behind the phone communication was against me. It was there that I decided I was done with it all. From then and now I will do what I want, when I want, with who and where I want… period! Being stuck in 4 walls in the height of summer attempting to make a room look good is not for me; no I would rather be outside capturing a stunning location, grounds, wildlife of even a whole region than in a room in sweltering heat doing something I hate. Luckily, the location owners were amazing and did all they could to help, but it was still a bad time for me.


Talk about your struggles being a photographer

In this day and age it is all too easy for anyone to go out, buy a medium priced high spec DSLR and purport to be a photographer. More fool them, as yet again for me the proof is in the pudding. My portfolio goes against the grain by being massive. Mainly because I have experience in so many various fields in photography it is hard not to add images I feel warrant what I do. Also having the photography as a second job gives me the advantage of not having to rely on it solely for an income, if it did the chances are I would have gone out of business years ago.  It is my aim to be a full time photographer and if I had the finances to start up as a full time pro then for sure that is the direction I would take. However,  it is not just the amateur wannabes that are the problem. There are so many businesses out there that want something for nothing, or expect you to sign your life away to them to gain exclusivity. Add to that many only offer promises and lies and so it can be a cut throat industry if you are not prepared or at least have you covered for any eventuality. The normal trick is for someone to fob you off with the promise of an amazing shoot or contract only to pull out at the very last second with little or any warning so leaving you high and dry and out in the cold. That is the nature of the game, for me it is just a case of nothing ventured nothing gained, just revert back to what I normally do and carry on. The one thing I stick to is quality, if an image is nothing less than 100% perfect in my eyes it will not get seen or published and again you have to be careful due to the fact that there are many out there that see what you do and think it is OK to not only use your image but also to lay claim to it, in a nutshell theft. It is another field I have got covered and to date there are over a dozen sites that have been closed down due to stealing my images. Had they had the decency to ask I would have allowed them to use them, but they did not so it is bye-bye time.


What has been your worst experience?

It has got to be the assignment earlier this year (2016). That really had me hit the ground hard and even today (3 months later) there are some unresolved issues that have left a nasty taste in my mouth.


What has been your favourite experience?

This is a tough question as there have been so many amazing experiences, but of all of them you may find this hard to understand.  Four years ago I was in Thessaloniki (Greece). It is a city I have come to love as it reminds me so much of London (Where I was born and lived until I was 20). The city is an haven for photographers and is stacked to the hilt with places to go, history and architecture. This dates back to when it was first built in 315BC as part of the then Macedon Empire, which is named after Alexander The Great’s half-Sister. Back to the plot, I have been all over the city and taken images of the normal touristy stuff as well as the lesser known places; on one particular trip though I was disturbed by what I was seeing on the streets and that was the plight of the homeless. I decided that I would try to capture images of these poor people and try to highlight the fact that in the 21st century people still had to beg for food in a system that was supposed to prevent this from happening. Not only the homeless but the old and infirm. One particular guy caught my eye, he was sitting outside a designer clothes outlet in a wheelchair, he had a hand written placard around his neck. I could not understand the Greek language I asked a passer-by if they could translate it for me. It was simply to get money to pay for a cataract operation or at least some water for him to drink. It was ironic that no less than 6 feet away was a vendor selling chilled bottled water for 50 cents a bottle… My God, I was horrified, so without a second thought I got him 4 bottles of water and handed him a 5 euro note, not much I know, but, and here is the good bit… The smile I got from him was of the scale, now there are those I have argued with over this that will say he was false, a liar, trying it on. I am sorry, I totally disagree, normally I try to remain impartial and that hurts at times but this time I had to do something. I was fuming over it, but his smile said it all, for the sake of a bottle of water he was over the moon, and then started to cry…. Arrrggghhhh, not the response I wanted but it was simply due to the fact he would eat and drink that day all for the price of a couple of bottles of water. I then asked if it would be OK to take a shot of him with the only provision was  to not smile as I took the shot, he allowed me and that was that. I have been to some amazing places, met some equally amazing and beautiful people but it is that one shot, the time, the place the circumstances that again told me to carry on. Some were upset that I took the shot and published it as well there were many Greeks who asked me to remove it, with my response being a resound NO, it is real life, it is on their streets as it is in so many other towns and cities around the globe. If I took it down who would know? Exactly.


What advice would you give to somebody starting out in photography?

Take your time. Do not rush into buying the best equipment there is, and work on your own technique. I did exactly that, I aspired to no-one simply because “my style” came to me in time, but you have to practice and practice, get to know your equipment, how it works, and what it can and cannot do. Then get out there and practice more. Ask friends, relatives, land owners etc, if you can take images for your own use, put them onto your computer and study what you have, figure where you may have gone wrong, how you can improve it. It may be you are happy with it, if so get the opinion of friends etc, once you are happy that you are issuing images that others like then go for it, but, I cannot emphasize how much DO NOT spend a lot at first, once you reach the limitations of your camera then upgrade, step by step, you will find as you go that your learning curve also gets bigger as each step will provide you more options to take and decisions to make. Go online and look at other people’s work, if you see something that you are struggling to do, don’t be shy, ask the photographer how they got that shot, what they used etc, you will be pleasantly surprised at how many photographers are only too willing to give advice and help to others. Another little tip, with today’s advances in technology we all have a powerful and capable camera in our pockets, the mobile phone, I use all the time, if anything to capture a scene and figure if there is actually a shot to take. This allows me to post it online giving those that follow me an idea of what to expect when I publish the shots.


What advice would you give to someone who wishes to become a professional?

Be very wary and careful. The main aim is to gain the trust of someone who is willing to invest in you and what you can offer to them from a business point of view. Trust no one; you have to remember there are thousands of people out there who will sell their soul for nothing if only to use the name of a company on their own work for bragging rights so you have to make sure that what you do is unlike that of anyone else. Make sure you have all the things in place, not only equipment but contracts, release forms and also a rock solid copyright protection (not that one exists) system that you can act upon as and when someone does decide to use your image as their own. Make sure you know what you are heading into and prior to any job make sure that both sides knows what is required and that this is written into the contract. Also make sure you have backup equipment should your primary camera fail and also look to see where there may a local retailer that can hire out anything else you may need, lenses, tripods, lighting etc. The biggest thing is to enjoy what you do, if you get no pleasure from it, walk away. It will show in your results and will also be a permanent reminder on bad times for you.


We all have a motto, mantra or phrase we use in life, what is yours?

A favourite saying for me is this “If I don’t show, who will know?”


If you won a million pounds what would you do with the money?

Ahhh the million pound question, simple, look after my family, get them whatever they need to have an easy as possible life, pay the mortgage off, buy a new house (with a studio) of course along with the rest of the other gizmos we all want in life. If there is any left after that lot then maybe some to a charity dealing with the cancer issue.


What or who inspires you? Who is your favourite photographer?

I cannot say there is one. There are so many incredible photographers out there it would not be fair to narrow it down to a single person. I have already mentioned a few people previously who are a massive influence to me and of anyone it has to be Tanu and Chris Shiels.   


What is your favourite photograph? (One you have taken and one from somebody else)

This is an easy one for me. The shot for me is not anything outstanding but it is the pure fact it should not have worked. Again at Thessaloniki (Greece) in January 2013 I took a shot of Mt Olympos from the seafront. It was a cloudy but clear day and the mountain was in view but, with a cloud cap that looked awesome, so with a 300mm lens my hand held at full stretch I took a 3 shot bracketed image (3 separate shots one after the other) in the hope it may give a nice HDR image when I got back to the UK. How on earth I managed to stay steady for those 3 shots even today makes me wonder, it should not have worked just on that aspect. When I got back to the UK and loaded the images the first thing I said was “WOW”!!! I worked the image to get the result I wanted and the rest is history. Since I posted the image it has been well received by the photo community and I have won countless awards from various photo groups along with some awesome comments. As far as work by other photographers one of my all-time favourites by another photographer is one captured by Tanu Shiels while she was living at home in India. A well-known American actress (Stephanie Danielson) happened to be in Delhi and allowed Tanu to take some shots. These images are outstanding, but, one image just took my breath away and it is this image that to this day will always inspire me to carry on, in the hope that maybe one day I can capture anything even half as good as what Tanu did would again tell me that I have something more to aim for.


What is next for Rik Freeman?

I am always aiming to get something different as well as trying to improve. One of my traits and one that I am proud of is the clarity of shots that I manage to get, and it is funny that the images I post onto social networks are only tiny low quality images compared to the originals and I am forever complemented on the level of detail I manage to show. I wish I had some way to display them in full resolution to all because for sure everyone would have their jaws hit the floor with just how much detail I manage to squeeze in. This is what spurs me to keep progressing, I hope to travel to more places on the planet or even here in the UK, as it seems I have a reputation for getting something different and that many folks look forward to seeing. I like to return to previous shoot locations just to see if I can get another, better shot than the previous time. For sure it is important to try to be one step ahead of what anyone else may try but that does not mean having to invest in thousands of pounds worth of equipment as my biggest ally in Landscape photography is nature itself and being in the right place at the right time. My aim is to have my own studio so I can provide photographic services to anyone that wants a studio shoot. Also enabling me space to get more creative and try other ideas and projects. There is always something to new to try, but my biggest love is for Greece and that is my lifelong quest, one which I will never stop. One day I will live there simply to have what I want on my doorstep and gain easy access to the rest of Europe and the Mediterranean islands and countries.


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